Published on Digital Development

SDGs Made with Code: Giving women and girls the power to change the world

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Increasingly more aspects in our lives are powered by technology, yet women aren’t represented in the roles that create this technology. In many places there are barriers to simply using technology, let alone, creating it. Women in India and Egypt are six times more likely than women in Uganda to say that internet use is not considered appropriate for them, and that their friends or family may disapprove. Learning to create with technology opens up opportunities for women to express themselves, have the ideas heard and contribute to shaping our future. Even though there’s so much more we need to do, we’re inspired to see the movement around the world to break down these barriers and start contributing their voices to the field of technology.

We recently met Mariana Costa from Laboratoria – a nonprofit that empowers young women by providing them access to the digital sector. In the next three years Laboratoria will train more than 10,000 young women as coders. This tech social enterprise located in Peru, Mexico and Chile, helps young women - who have not previously had access to quality education – enroll in an immersive five-month training program at Laboratoria’s Code Academy, where students achieve an intermediate level on the most common web development languages and tools. Their technical development is complemented with a personal development program that helps them build the soft skills needed to perform well at work. Successful graduates also receive mentoring and job placement and are usually able to pay-back the cost of the course during their first two years of employment. Most of the time, these young girls are the only breadwinners in their households.

Programs like this are not unique to Latin America. Born as an Afghan refugee, Fereshteh Forough, started Code to Inspire – a NGO that provides a safe space and empowers young women from Afghanistan to learn code. She was able to overcome cultural barriers to earn her master's degree in Computer Science C and is now dedicated to opening up learning opportunities for young women, mentoring them and teaching how to use code. She believes education - especially learning technology and computer science skills - can help change women’s role in society and empower them become leaders.

At the World Bank we believe it is important to hear the voices of young girls from all backgrounds, what stands in their way and what global issues they would use code to address. Our flagship publication – the World Development Report  - focused this year’s issue on extending digital dividends to everyone. Evidence shows that increasing access to digital technologies has provided people globally with more opportunities through inclusion, efficiency and innovation. And improved access to technology is a true game changer for women, helping them to overcome mobility constraints, boosting access to information and social networks.

This is why social enterprises, like Laboratoria and Code to Inspire, but also leading technology companies like Google, are investing in coding boot camps and are extending opportunities to young girls around the world to embrace technology and digital innovation.

This week, at the Global Citizen Festival, Google’s Made with Code will launch a movement to inspire girls to use Computer Science to make a positive change in the world. As part of this program, Made with Code has developed a new coding project that gives young women everywhere a chance to take their first step by making their voice heard and coding a statement about the change they want to see in the world.

Together with partners, UN Women and nonprofit Technovation, Google’s Made with Code will announce a coding challenge for girls to create apps that can make real change happen on the ground. This global initiative can help young girls appreciate how code can help in giving them a voice and creating new possibilities to change the world for the better. As the event is held on the margins of the UN General Assembly, the overarching theme for the coding project will be the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how code can help achieve them. For example, girls will be able to code a safe drinking water availability map for their community (SDG 6) or an app that helps prevent teacher absenteeism in schools to make sure everyone gets quality education (SDG 4).

We believe girls can take the next step in coding and make a real change in the world. Let’s inspire more diverse voices, and create a new generation that can make positive change through computer science education. To this generation of young coders we say “Code the Change You Want to See in the World”.


Mariana Dahan

Senior Operations Officer, Office of the Senior Vice-President of the World Bank, responsible for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations relations and partnerships

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